As cheerleading continues to become more of a phenomenon, it is not considered a collegiate sport as determined by the NCAA (Nation Collegiate Athletic Association). Many, including the cheerleaders, coaches, and fans find this to be an unacceptable and incorrect label for the activity or cheerleading. I do not find it to be an incorrect label for college cheerleading, and agree with why it was determined to not be a sport.
Why though, as it grows, is cheerleading not called a sport by the NCAA, and should it be? Today’s cheerleading typically consists of athletes flipping and twisting their bodies through the air, throwing people and being thrown, and practicing consistent skills of body awareness and physical exertion. And that, by definition, is an athlete right? And athletes play sports, right? Wrong.
College cheerleaders are athletes, but what they do is not a sport. Being a sport is when athletes work for, and only for, competition. When involved in a sport, essentially the whole purpose is to train for some type of competition against another athlete or group of athletes. The athletes simply practice to prepare for this, in hopes of a successful outcome. On the contrary, college cheerleading is not this way.
The practice of cheerleading at the college level has always served one unchanged purpose: to literally lead cheers. To help engage the fans, hype up the crowd and the athletes that they’re cheering for. Prior to any flipping, twisting, or throwing, that’s all it was; engaging the audience and building the energy in hopes to help steal the win. But even now with all of the extra physical activity it requires, the NCAA will not rule it as a sport whether they’re athletes or not.
Defined by dictionary.com, a sport is, “an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc.” Cheerleading can absolutely fit into this category, again because of the physical skill it requires and the fact that many college teams compete in national competitions. However, throughout the entire year, no University or college considers competition to be the cheerleaders’ main job but rather to be what it was built for: support to the other sports teams during their competitions, meets, or games.
The term “sport” has a much stronger emphasis on competition, if you ask the NCAA. They say, “a sport shall be defined as an institutional activity involving physical exertion with the purpose of competition versus other teams or individuals within a collegiate competition structure. Furthermore, sport includes regularly scheduled team and/or individual, head-to-head competition (at least five) within a defined competitive season(s); and standardized rules with rating/scoring systems ratified by official regulatory agencies and governing bodies.”
They even go on to list rules such as a minimum number of competitions per season, a minimum number of these sport teams that already exist on other college campuses, and more. It is a process to become an NCAA sport, but worth meeting all of the requirements as it will affect every NCAA school.
What about those teams that DO put competition first? The south takes cheerleading competitions as seriously and Wisconsin takes beer. It’s not a joke. Let’s take a look at the University of Kentucky for example. They have won 21 Division 1A (the highest level) championships at the Universal Cheerleaders Association National College Cheerleading Championship. Speaking in “sports” terms, that’s like winning 21 NCAA national titles for cheerleaders, because since it is not an NCAA sport, they must compete through other mediums.
Organizations such as UCA and NCA (Nation Cheerleading Association) host these kind of events, and it is up to the teams’ discretion as to which they want to attend. However, as far as regular competitions, they host little to none for college cheer teams. Nationals is really the only serious competition for college cheerleaders, meaning their entire season is not competition based or focused; again, rather on the support of their school, other athletes and sports teams.
Many critics of the premises that cheerleading is not a sport try to defend it by relating to All-Star cheerleading. All-Star cheerleading is competition based; they practice only to prepare for their many competitions. For them, there are qualifications to make it to events such as Nationals and Worlds, unlike collegiate Nationals where they are simply placed in a category for competitions based on the team’s skill level.
Therefore, All-Star cheerleading is a sport. It fits the definition; their main purpose is to compete, and compete well. This cannot be comparable to college cheer, to defend the argument that it should be an NCAA sport.
College cheer is difficult. It requires real, athletic, focused and driven individuals. It is not something normal, to throw people in the air and then catch them in the hands, nor is it normal to flip and twist your body multiple times. But it takes extreme, extreme skill. College cheerleading is among the most difficult of kinds of cheer, with skills that aren’t even legal in many other types such as All-Star. College cheerleaders are athletes, but what they do is not a sport.